Saturday, June 1, 2019

Review - Ayesha at Last

Title:   Ayesha at Last
Author:  Uzma Jalaluddin
Genre:   Romance
Publisher:   Berkley
Format:  Kindle ARC
No. of Pages:  368
Date of Publication:  June 4, 2019
My Rating:  5 Stars

DESCRIPTION:
A modern-day Muslim Pride and Prejudice for a new generation of love.

Ayesha Shamsi has a lot going on. Her dreams of being a poet have been set aside for a teaching job so she can pay off her debts to her wealthy uncle. She lives with her boisterous Muslim family and is always being reminded that her flighty younger cousin, Hafsa, is close to rejecting her one hundredth marriage proposal. Though Ayesha is lonely, she doesn't want an arranged marriage. Then she meets Khalid who is just as smart and handsome as he is conservative and judgmental. She is irritatingly attracted to someone who looks down on her choices and dresses like he belongs in the seventh century.

Ayesha is torn between how she feels about the straightforward Khalid and the unsettling new gossip she hears about his family. Looking into the rumors, she finds she has to deal with not only what she discovers about Khalid, but also the truth she realizes about herself.


Feel free to enjoy the following excerpt:

CHAPTER ONE

He wondered if he would see her today. Khalid Mirza sat at the breakfast bar of his light-filled kitchen, long legs almost reaching the floor. It was seven in the morning, and his eyes were trained on the window, the one with the best view of the townhouse complex across the street.

His patience was rewarded.

A young woman wearing a purple hijab, blue button-down shirt, blazer and black pants ran down the steps of the middle townhouse, balancing a red ceramic travel mug and canvas satchel. She stumbled but caught herself, skidding to a stop in front of an aging sedan. She put the mug on the hood of the car and unlocked the door.

Khalid had seen her several times since he had moved into the neighbourhood two months ago, always with her red ceramic mug, always in a hurry. She was a petite woman with a round face and dreamy smile, skin a golden burnished copper that glowed in the sullen March morning.

It is not appropriate to stare at women, no matter how interesting their purple hijabs, Khalid reminded himself.

Yet his eyes returned for a second, wistful look. She was so beautiful.

The sound of Bollywood music blaring from a car speaker made the young woman freeze. She peered around her Toyota Corolla to see a red Mercedes SLK convertible zoom into her driveway. Khalid watched as the young woman dropped to a crouch behind her car. Who was she hiding from? He leaned forward for a better look.

“What are you looking at, Khalid?” asked his mother, Farzana. “Nothing, Ammi,” Khalid said, and took a bite of the clammy scrambled eggs Farzana had prepared for breakfast. When he looked up again, the young woman and her canvas satchel were inside the Toyota.

Her red travel mug was not.

It flew off the roof of her car as she sped away, smashing into a hundred pieces and narrowly missing the red Mercedes.

Khalid laughed out loud. When he looked up, he caught his mother’s stern gaze.

“It’s such a lovely day outside,” Farzana said, giving her son a hard look. “I can see why your eyes are drawn to the view.”

Khalid flushed at her words. Ammi had been dropping hints lately. She thought it was time for him to marry. He had a steady job, and twenty-six was a good age to settle down. Their family was wealthy and could easily pay for the large wedding his mother wanted.

“I was going to tell you after I’d made a few choices, but it appears you are ready to hear the news. I have begun the search for your wife,” Farzana announced, and her tone brooked no opposition. “Love comes after marriage, not before. These Western ideas of romantic love are utter nonsense. Just look at the American divorce rate.”

Khalid paused mid-bite, but his mother didn’t notice. Her announcement was surprising, but the news was not unexpected or even unwelcome. He resumed eating.

“I will find you the perfect wife—modest, not too educated. If we can’t find someone local, we will search for a girl back home.”

“Back home” for Farzana was Hyderabad, India, though she had lived in Canada for over thirty years. Khalid had been born in a suburb west of Toronto and lived there for most of his life until his father’s death six months ago, before Farzana and Khalid had moved to the east end of the city. Farzana had insisted on the move, and though Khalid had been sorry to leave his friends and the mosque he had frequented with his father, deep down he thought it might do them both some good.

Their new neighbourhood had felt instantly comfortable. From the moment they’d arrived, Khalid felt as if he had finally come home. There were more cars parked three or four deep on extended driveways, more untamed backyards in need of the maintenance that only time, money and access to professional services could provide. Yet the people were kind, friendly even, and Khalid was at ease among the brown and black faces that reflected his own.

Farzana neatly flipped another paratha flatbread onto her son’s plate, though he had not asked for more. “The wedding will be in July. Everyone will want an invitation, but I will limit the guest list to six hundred people. Any more is showing off.”

Humming to herself, she placed a small pot on the stove, adding water, milk, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom and tea leaves for chai. Khalid’s eyes lingered on the chipped forest-green mug on the counter. His father’s mug. Ammi had used that mug for his Abba’s chai for years. This was the first time he had seen it out of the cupboard since the move. Maybe his mother was finally beginning to make her way through the cloud of grief that had paralyzed her after Abba’s death.

There was so much of the past they did not talk about. Khalid was relieved she was thinking about the future. Or rather, his future. The idea of an arranged marriage had never bothered Khalid. A partner carefully chosen for him, just as his parents had been chosen for each other and their parents before them, seemed like a tidy practice. He liked the idea of being part of an unbroken chain that honoured tradition and ensured family peace and stability. He knew that some people, even his own sister, thought the practice of arranged marriage was restrictive, but he found it comforting. Romantic relationships and their accompanying perks were for marriage only.

At the thought of romantic perks, Khalid’s attention drifted to the window once more—but he stopped himself. The girl with the (broken) red mug would never be more than a fantasy. Because while it is a truth universally acknowledged that a single Muslim man must be in want of a wife, there’s an even greater truth: To his Indian mother, his own inclinations are of secondary importance.

MY THOUGHTS:

Ayesha Shamsi is a modern Muslim and is quite talented as a poet and has the opportunity to share her poetry. However, she works as a substitute teacher. She longs to get married but is not keen on the process involved with her family and her faith. However, Ayesha is behaving quite conscientiously. When she and her family arrived in in Canada, from India, her uncle helped in tremendous ways, something that she makes her feel deeply indebted. She hopes her job as a teacher will allow her to begin to pay her uncle back. Meanwhile, Ayesha cannot get away from her family, because her cousin Hafsa is front and center in her life. Hafsa is presented as having far more to offer than Ayesha and has been receiving numerous marriage proposals.

Khalid Mirza is a conservative and devout Muslim man. He is doing his best to follow the rules of his culture and tradition in his manner of dress and style and by allowing his mother to arrange marriage for him. When Khalid meets Ayesha, she affects him so much that he forgets to breathe, However, she is nowhere near as traditional as Khalid, so therefore, he finds her unacceptable and never once wants to trust the feelings he cannot help but to have for her.

While Ayesha is indeed drawn to Khalid, there are indeed obstacles that would prevent her from ever considering anything further with him. For one thing, there is much gossip about Khalid and his family, so bad, in fact, that Ayesha wants to be as far away from him as possible. She also knows that his mother has other plans for Khalid. Beyond that, Ayesha has very good reasons never to trust her heart.

Ayesha at Last is a multi-layered story. The stories intertwine quite well. The reader will be able to see things like Ayesha and her relationship with her cousin. Then there Khalid's mother and how she strives to orchestrate everything in his life. Meanwhile, he is facing huge adversity on his job. The fact that his boss shows remarkable aversion to him simply because of his religion and appearance was nothing less than despicable. 

This debut novel was absolutely incredible! I can barely believe that Uzma Jalaluddin could write such an amazing book. So many scenes in this book are permanently imprinted in my brain. I learned about the culture and how, in today's society, things such as planned marriages still exist here in the United States. All I wanted was for Ayesha and Khalid to find love. For the author to write a book with so many conflicts and the resolutions that occurred, well, it was done expertly.

What an amazing book! If this is what this extraordinary author has to offer her readers, no doubt I will be first in line for any book she dares to pen. So, if you cannot tell already, I highly recommend this read. If one is overly concerned about the fact that this involves a situation where faith is often mentioned, they need not worry. What they will get is a book with real people, in real situations, with even some humor, oh, and beautiful poetry, finding their way to love just like any other romance novel one would read. Lastly, I would be remiss if I did not mention that this is a modern-day Pride and Prejudice retelling.

Many thanks to Berkley and to Edelweiss for this ARC to review in exchange for my honest opinion.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Uzma Jalaluddin is the author of AYESHA AT LAST, a revamped Pride and Prejudice set in a close-knit Toronto Muslim community. The book has been featured in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Chatelaine, Quill and Quire and The New York Times. She has been a guest on television shows Cityline, CTV Your Morning and The Social, as well as CBC Radio. AYESHA AT LAST was recently optioned for film by Pascal Pictures. In addition to fiction, Uzma writes a culture and parenting column for The Toronto Star. She lives in the Greater Toronto Area with her husband and two sons.



8 comments:

  1. This one seems to be a hit with everyone who reads it

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  2. Sounds like an important read. Thanks for sharing.
    Gemma @ Gemma's Book Nook

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  3. I like the sound of the book and the minimalist cover too. Thank for the excerpt.

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  4. I love a good ownvoices novel. Sounds like a good read.

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  5. This has been on my TBR. I'm so happy it was a 5 star read for you!

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  6. This sounds amazing.!I hope you have a great week ahead.

    Gayathri @ Elgee Writes

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